“At the entrance to the Cincinnati Zoo’s Africa exhibit every table in the place was packed: with schoolchildren in matching T-shirts, middle-aged tourists with giant S.L.R. cameras slung around their necks, and a mélange of zoo employees…The cafe is the closest eatery to the hippo tank, and therefore the closest to Fiona, the 10-month-old hippo who bounces around inside it. Over the last year, Fiona has become something of an international cause célèbre, largely because of the efforts of Ms. Curley, the zoo’s communications director, and her four-person team, who started posting Fiona’s every move to social media from the day she was born on Jan. 24 (prematurely, and perilously, but more on that later).” R. Syme, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Hooray for Fiona the Hippo, Our Bundle of Social-Media Joy, Rachel Syme, The NYT
“Fionamania has swept the country. Videos of her twirling around in the water, Rubenesque and graceful, rack up millions of views online. She photo-bombed a local couple’s engagement photo, and it wound up on ‘The Tonight Show.’ The popular Cincinnati ice cream purveyor Graeter’s made a ‘Chunky Chunky Hippo’ flavor over the summer — a toffee base with salted peanuts and caramel truffles — that sold out at the zoo every day it was available. A local T-shirt company, Cincy Shirts, screen-printed a small batch of tees with the words ‘Feeling Hip’ along with a cartoon rendering of Fiona in February, and has since shipped 30,000 Fiona-branded products (including tees, stickers, magnets and now Christmas sweaters featuring Fiona in a Santa hat) all over the world.
Fiona starred in her own 7-episode reality show sponsored by Facebook. The zoo’s director, Thane Maynard, sold a children’s book called ‘Saving Fiona: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Baby Hippo’ to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, scheduled for the spring of 2018, with proceeds benefiting the animal’s care. The Cincinnati Reds are planning to have an official ‘Fiona Day’ at the ballpark next summer, complete with commemorative hippopotamus bobbleheads.
When Fiona was born, no one expected her to survive. Bibi, her lumbering, obstinate mother (‘Fiona gets all of her diva tendencies from her mom,’ said Christina Gorsuch, the curator for African mammals) gave birth six weeks early, and the baby weighed only 29 pounds. Most viable hippos weigh between 55 and 120 pounds at birth; premature infants rarely pull through. ‘In the first six weeks, there was at least once a week when we were sure she was going to die,’ said Ms. Gorsuch… She was kept in a newborn I.C.U., with round-the-clock care that included visits from local doctors from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital who located her tiny veins for an IV during a nasty bout of dehydration.
Overnight, Fiona became a symbol of resilience and positivity. Buzzfeed ran listicles of her bravest moments, calling her a ‘sassy, unbothered, unproblematic queen.’ NPR ran a national report on her swelling celebrity status. One website called her ‘The Only Good Thing Left in This World.’
People love a story where everything looks dark and then heroes save the day. Fiona came here in the year 2017, a year when we need a lot more good news. And there she is, our good-news emissary.’
‘People tell us all the time that Fiona is something everyone can agree on,’ said Amy LaBarbara, the zoo’s coordinator for marketing and events. ‘We have heard from countless people online that Fiona has been uniting the United States. We hear from people going through chemo that tell us she is the only bright spot in their day.”
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Have students examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Every Formica table in the place was packed with schoolchildren.
- There was a mélange of zoo employees wearing branded fleeces and muddy boots.
- Fiona starred in her own reality show.
- Caring for a 500-pound baby can be exhausting.
- People needed ways to commemorate the special occasion.
- Fiona’s birth was documented on social media for the world to see.
- That’s when everyone knew that Fiona is really a rock star.
- Now the zoo was getting asked at conferences about how they did it.
- Everyone is so invested now.
- Many of Fiona’s keepers insist that she courts and adores the attention.
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following paragraph taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
Twitter ___have become ___with Fiona’s flatulence. She has___America’s Large ___Daughter, its___baby queen, its___diva with the skin___of a wet___.
WORD LIST: obsessed, avocado,texture, reigning, triumphant, become, fans, Adult,
Directions: Students are to chose the correct word or phrases from the article. This exercise reinforces students’ attention on words that have been introduced in the reading. Have them skim the article to check their responses. Students should also find the meanings for all unknown words.
Scientists/science at the zone/zoo milked/milk a hippo for the first time — “we had no idea what was/why in hippo milk before now,” Ms. Gorsuch said — so that they could recreate/retrace the form/formula for Fiona’s bottles. Every day, between January and May 15, when Fiona finally was able to promenade/promote around the hippo tank for the public, seemed to bring a new heat/health crisis. All of this was documented on social media for the world to see.
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Discussion for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Place students in groups and have each group compose a letter or note to a person mentioned in the article telling her/him their thoughts on the topic. Share the letters as a class.
Extra: Web Search
Directions: In groups/partners have students search for the topic on the web and see what additional information they can find. Students can either have further discussions or write an essay about the subject.
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.